Divided Cape Elizabeth Planning Board sets hearing on cell tower plan

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CAPE ELIZABETH — An application by Verizon Wireless to place wireless communication antennas on top of a water tower has been scheduled for a public hearing.

The Planning Board on Feb. 22 narrowly accepted the company’s application to put antennas on the 70-year-old tower at 11 Avon Road in Shore Acres, and set a March 15 public hearing. The board also decided to hold a site walk, which is open to the public, at 7:30 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 27.

Verizon lawyer Scott Anderson of the Portland firm Verrill Dana submitted the application, which is the second one for this project, on Jan. 29. The first was opposed by some neighbors and town officials, and ultimately led to a federal lawsuit won by Verizon.

The dispute began after Code Enforcement Officer Ben McDougal in early 2014 denied Verizon’s application to place an antenna on the tower, which is owned by the Portland Water District and has been dry for 10 years. Verizon sought reconsideration in June 2014, but was denied by the Zoning Board of Appeals. Verizon sued the town in July 2014 in U.S. District Court in Portland and won on Sept. 30, 2015.

Its new application is intended to address neighbors’ concerns. It says development won’t impact wetlands or traffic flow. It also says noise will be kept to a minimum and that Verizon will place equipment on the side of the structure furthest away from nearby homes.

Unlike the original application, there won’t be a shed placed next to the tower to contain equipment. Instead, a concrete slab will be poured at the base of the tower and a small cabinet containing equipment will be mounted on the tower.

A small roof will be put over the cabinet, which will have downward facing, motion-activated lights. Anderson said the lights will come on if a Verizon maintenance worker is opening the cabinet at night, which would only happen in an emergency. He said regular maintenance takes place once or twice a month during the day.

The original shed was going to contain heating and cooling systems, which was a concern for residents because of the noise they would produce. According to Anderson, the cabinet will have small, quiet fans to regulate temperatures.

“We think we designed a site that is small and quiet, and from a visual standpoint is minimal,” Anderson said.

Planning Board member Henry Steinberg asked if the equipment can be placed inside the tank, but Anderson said it couldn’t because the tower structure can’t be cut, and because condensation would be a problem. Steinberg nonetheless suggested Verizon do more research into the possibility.

During the public comment at Monday’s meeting several residents expressed concerns about Verizon’s plans to paint the tower. They said they worry about the existing lead paint on the tank and how painters will deal with it. Anderson assured the public and the board that painters will know how to remediate the situation.

The Planning Board voted 3-2, with Steinberg and Jonathan Sahrbeck opposed, to accept the application as complete. The board created a checklist, though, with items it wants updated. Town Planner Maureen O’Meara said the updated application is due back to the town by Feb. 29.

The checklist includes specific information on repainting the tank, research on putting equipment in the tank, and more pictures of the tank from different angles and views.

Kate Gardner can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or kgardner@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @katevgardner.

The Cape Elizabeth Planning Board wants more information from Verizon Wireless about the company’s revised application to place antennas on this Avon Road water tower.

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I'm a reporter for The Forecaster covering Freeport, Yarmouth, Chebeague Island, and Cape Elizabeth. I'm from a small town in NH no one's ever heard of. When not reporting, I can be found eating pasta and reading books, often at the same time.